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A Romance of the Republic By Lydia Maria Child Characters: 17490

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04

Alfred R. King, when summoned home to Boston by the illness of his mother, had, by advice of physicians, immediately accompanied her to the South of France, and afterward to Egypt. Finding little benefit from change of climate, and longing for familiar scenes and faces, she urged her son to return to New England, after a brief sojourn in Italy. She was destined never again to see the home for which she yearned. The worn-out garment of her soul was laid away under a flowery mound in Florence, and her son returned alone. During the two years thus occupied, communication with the United States had been much interrupted, and his thoughts had been so absorbed by his dying mother, that the memory of that bright evening in New Orleans recurred less frequently than it would otherwise have done. Still, the veiled picture remained in his soul, making the beauty of all other women seem dim. As he recrossed the Atlantic, lonely and sad, a radiant vision of those two sisters sometimes came before his imagination with the distinctness of actual presence. As he sat silently watching the white streak of foam in the wake of the vessel, he could see, as in a mirror, all the details of that flowery parlor; he could hear the continuous flow of the fountain in the garden, and the melodious tones of "Buena Notte, amato bene."

Arrived in Boston, his first inquiry of the merchants was whether they had heard anything of Mr. Royal. He received the news of his death with a whirl of emotions. How he longed for tidings concerning the daughters! But questions would of course be unavailing, since their existence was entirely unknown at the North. That Mr. Royal had died insolvent, and his property had been disposed of at auction, filled him with alarm. It instantly occurred to him how much power such circumstances would place in the hands of Mr. Fitzgerald. The thought passed through his mind, "Would he marry Rosabella?" And he seemed to hear a repetition of the light, careless tones, "Of course not,-she was a quadroon." His uneasiness was too strong to be restrained, and the second day after his arrival he started for New Orleans.

He found the store of his old friend occupied by strangers, who could only repeat what he had already heard. He rode out to the house where he had passed that never-to-be-forgotten evening. There all was painfully changed. The purchasers had refurnished the house with tasteless gewgaws, and the spirit of gracefulness had vanished. Their unmodulated voices grated on his ear, in contrast with the liquid softness of Rosabella's tones, and the merry, musical tinkling of Floracita's prattle. All they could tell him was, that they heard the quadroons who used to be kept there by the gentleman that owned the house had gone to the North somewhere. A pang shot through his soul as he asked himself whether they remembered his offer of assistance, and had gone in search of him. He turned and looked back upon the house, as he had done that farewell morning, when he assured them that he would be a brother in time of need. He could hardly believe that all the life and love and beauty which animated that home had vanished into utter darkness. It seemed stranger than the changes of a dream.

Very sad at heart, he returned to the city and sought out a merchant with whom his father had been accustomed to transact business. "Mr. Talbot," said he, "I have come to New Orleans to inquire concerning the affairs of the late Mr. Alfred Royal, who was a particular friend of my father. I have been surprised to hear that he died insolvent; for I supposed him to be wealthy."

"He was generally so considered," rejoined Mr. Talbot. "But he was brought down by successive failures, and some unlucky investments, as we merchants often are, you know."

"Were you acquainted with him," asked Alfred.

"I knew very little of him, except in the way of business," replied the merchant. "He was disinclined to society, and therefore some people considered him eccentric; but he had the reputation of being a kind-hearted, honorable man."

"I think he never married," said Alfred, in a tone of hesitating inquiry, which he hoped might lead to the subject he had at heart.

But it only elicited the brief reply, "He was a bachelor."

"Did you ever hear of any family not legitimated by law?" inquired the young man.

"There was a rumor about his living somewhere out of the city with a handsome quadroon," answered the merchant. "But such arrangements are so common here, they excite no curiosity."

"Can you think of any one who had intimate relations with him, of whom

I could learn something about that connection?"

"No, I cannot. As I tell you, he never mixed with society, and people knew very little about him. Ha! there's a gentleman going by now, who may be able to give you some information. Hallo, Signor Papanti!"

The Italian, who was thus hailed, halted in his quick walk, and, being beckoned to by Mr. Talbot, crossed the street and entered the store.

"I think you brought a bill against the estate of the late Mr. Alfred Royal for lessons given to some quadroon girls. Did you not?" inquired the merchant.

Having received an answer in the affirmative, he said: "This is Mr. King, a young gentleman from the North, who wishes to obtain information on that subject. Perhaps you can give it to him."

"I remember the young gentleman," replied the Signor. "Mr. Royal did introduce me to him at his store."

The two gentlemen thus introduced bade Mr. Talbot good morning, and walked away together, when Mr. King said, "My father and Mr. Royal were as brothers, and that is the reason I feel interested to know what has become of his daughters."

The Italian replied, "I will tell you, sir, because Mr. Royal told me you were an excellent man, and the son of his old friend."

Rapid questions and answers soon brought out the principal features of the sisters' strange history. When it came to the fact of their being claimed as slaves, Mr. King started. "Is such a thing possible in this country?" he exclaimed. "Girls so elegant and accomplished as they were!"

"Quite possible, sir," responded the Signor. "I have known several similar instances in this city. But in this case I was surprised, because I never knew their mother was a slave. She was a singularly handsome and ladylike woman."

"How was it possible that Mr. Royal neglected to manumit her?" inquired the young man.

"I suppose he never thought of her otherwise than as his wife, and never dreamed of being otherwise than rich," rejoined the Signor." Besides, you know how often death does overtake men with their duties half fulfilled. He did manumit his daughters a few months before his decease; but it was decided that he was then too deeply in debt to have a right to dispose of any portion of his property."

"Property!" echoed the indignant young man. "Such a term applied to women makes me an Abolitionist."

"Please not to speak that word aloud," responded the Italian. "I was in prison several weeks on the charge of helping off those interesting pupils of mine, and I don't know what might have become of me, if Mr. Fitzgerald had not helped me by money and influence. I have my own opinions about slavery, but I had rather go out of New Orleans before I express them."

"A free country indeed!" exclaimed the young man, "where one cannot safely express his indignation against such enormities. But tell me how the girls were rescued from such a dreadful fate; for by the assurance you gave me at the outset that they needed no assistance, I infer that they were rescued."

He listened with as much composure as he could to the account of Mr. Fitzgerald's agency in their escape, his marriage, Rosabella's devoted love for him, and her happy home on a Paradisian island. The Signor summed it up by saying, "I believe her happiness has been entirely without alloy, except the sad fate of her sister, of which we heard a few weeks ago."

"What has happened to her?" inquired Alfred, with eager interest.

"She went to the sea-shore to gather mosses, and never returned," replied the Signor. "It is supposed she slipped into the water and was drowned, or that she was seized by an alligator."

"O horrid!" exclaimed Alfred. "Poor Floracita! What a bright, beaming little beauty she was! But an alligator's mouth was a better fate than slavery."

"Again touching upon the dangerous topic!" rejoined the Signor. "If you stay here long, I think you and the prison-walls will become acquainted. But here is what used to be poor Mr. Royal's happy home, and yonder is where Madame Papanti resides,-the Madame Guirlande I told you of, who befriended the poor orphans when they

had no other friend. Her kindness to them, and her courage in managing for them, was what first put it in my head to ask her to be my wife. Come in and have a t?te-?-t?te with her, sir. She knew the girls from the time they were born, and she loved them like a mother."

Within the house, the young man listened to a more prolonged account, some of the details of which were new, others a repetition. Madame dwelt with evident satisfaction on the fact that Rosa, in the midst of all her peril, refused to accept the protection of Mr. Fitzgerald, unless she were married to him; because she had so promised her father, the night before he died.

"That was highly honorable to her," replied Mr. King; "but marriage with a slave is not valid in law."

"So the Signor says," rejoined Madame. "I was so frightened and hurried, and I was so relieved when a protector offered himself, that I didn't think to inquire anything about it. Before Mr. Fitzgerald made his appearance, we had planned to go to Boston in search of you."

"Of me!" he exclaimed eagerly. "O, how I wish you had, and that I had been in Boston to receive you!"

"Well, I don't know that anything better could be done than has been done," responded Madame. "The girls were handsome to the perdition of their souls, as we say in France; and they knew no more about the world than two blind kittens. Their mother came here a stranger, and she made no acquaintance. Thus they seemed to be left singularly alone when their parents were gone. Mr. Fitzgerald was so desperately in love with Rosabella, and she with him, that they could not have been kept long apart any way. He has behaved very generously toward them. By purchasing them, he has taken them out of the power of the creditors, some of whom were very bad men. He bought Rosa's piano, and several other articles to which they were attached on their father's and mother's account, and conveyed them privately to the new home he had provided for them. Rosabella always writes of him as the most devoted of husbands; and dear little Floracita used to mention him as the kindest of brothers. So there seems every reason to suppose that Rosa will be as fortunate as her mother was."

"I hope so," replied Mr. King. "But I know Mr. Royal had very little confidence in Mr. Fitzgerald; and the brief acquaintance I had with him impressed me with the idea that he was a heartless, insidious man. Moreover, they are his slaves."

"They don't know that," rejoined Madame. "He has had the delicacy to conceal it from them."

"It would have been more delicate to have recorded their manumission," responded Mr. King.

"That would necessarily involve change of residence," remarked the Signor; "for the laws of Georgia forbid the manumission of slaves within the State."

"What blasphemy to call such cruel enactments by the sacred name of law!" replied the young man. "As well might the compacts of robbers to secure their plunder be called law. The walls have no ears or tongues, Signor," added he, smiling; "so I think you will not be thrust in jail for having such an imprudent guest. But, as I was saying, I cannot help having misgivings concerning the future. I want you to keep a sharp lookout concerning the welfare of those young ladies, and to inform me from time to time. Wheresoever I may happen to be, I will furnish you with my address, and I wish you also to let me know where you are to be found, if you should change your residence. My father and Mr. Royal were like brothers when they were young men, and if my father were living he would wish to protect the children of his friend. The duty that he would have performed devolves upon me. I will deposit five thousand dollars with Mr. Talbot, for their use, subject to your order, should any unhappy emergency occur. I say their use, bearing in mind the possibility that Floracita may reappear, though that seems very unlikely. But, my friends, I wish to bind you, by the most solemn promise, never to mention my name in connection with this transaction, and never to give any possible clew to it. I wish you also to conceal my having come here to inquire concerning them. If they ever need assistance, I do not wish them to know or conjecture who their benefactor is. If you have occasion to call for the money, merely say that an old friend of their father's deposited it for their use."

"I will solemnly pledge myself to secrecy," answered the Signor; "and though secrets are not considered very safe with women, I believe Madame may be trusted to any extent, where the welfare of these girls is concerned."

"I think you might say rather more than that, my friend," rejoined Madame. "But that will do. I promise to do in all respects as the young gentleman has requested, though I trust and believe that his precautions will prove needless. Mr. Fitzgerald is very wealthy, and I cannot suppose it possible that he would ever allow Rosabella to want for anything."

"That may be," replied Mr. King. "But storms come up suddenly in the sunniest skies, as was the case with poor Mr. Royal. If Mr. Fitzgerald's love remains constant, he may fail, or he may die, without making provision for her manumission or support."

"That is very true," answered the Signor. "How much forecast you

Yankees have!"

"I should hardly deserve that compliment, my friends, if I failed to supply you with the necessary means to carry out my wishes." He put two hundred dollars into the hands of each, saying, "You will keep me informed on the subject; and if Mrs. Fitzgerald should be ill or in trouble, your will go to her."

They remonstrated, saying it was too much. "Take it then for what you have done," replied he.

When he had gone, Madame said, "Do you suppose he does all this on account of the friendship of their fathers?"

"He's an uncommon son, if he does," replied the Signor. "But I'm glad Rosabella has such a firm anchor to the windward if a storm should come."

Mr. King sought Mr. Talbot again, and placed five thousand dollars in his hands, with the necessary forms and instructions, adding: "Should any unforeseen emergency render a larger sum necessary, please to advance it, and draw on me. I am obliged to sail for Smyrna soon, on business, or I would not trouble you to attend to this."

Mr. Talbot smiled significantly, as he said, "These young ladies must be very charming, to inspire so deep an interest in their welfare."

The young man, clad in the armor of an honest purpose, did not feel the point of the arrow, and answered quietly: "They are very charming. I saw them for a few hours only, and never expect to see them again. Their father and mine were very intimate friends, and I feel it a duty to protect them from misfortune if possible." When the business was completed, and they had exchanged parting salutations, he turned back to say, "Do you happen to know anything of Mr. Fitzgerald of Savannah?"

"I never had any acquaintance with him," replied Mr. Talbot; "but he has the name of being something of a roué, and rather fond of cards."

"Can the death of Floracita be apocryphal?" thought Alfred. "Could he be capable of selling her? No. Surely mortal man could not wrong that artless child."

He returned to his lodgings, feeling more fatigued and dispirited than usual. He had done all that was possible for the welfare of the woman who had first inspired him with love; but O, what would he not have given for such an opportunity as Fitzgerald had! He was obliged to confess to himself that the utter annihilation of his hope was more bitter than he had supposed it would be. He no longer doubted that he would have married her if he could, in full view of all her antecedents, and even with his mother's prejudices to encounter. He could not, however, help smiling at himself, as he thought: "Yet how very different she was from what I had previously resolved to choose! How wisely I have talked to young men about preferring character to beauty! And lo! I found myself magnetized at first sight by mere beauty!"

But manly pride rebelled against the imputation of such weakness. "No, it was not mere outward beauty," he said to himself. "True, I had no opportunity of becoming acquainted with the qualities of her soul, but her countenance unmistakably expressed sweetness, modesty, and dignity, and the inflexions of her voice were a sure guaranty for refinement."

With visions of past and future revolving round him, he fell asleep and dreamed he saw Rosabella alone on a plank, sinking in a tempestuous sea. Free as he thought himself from superstition, the dream made an uncomfortable impression on him, though he admitted that it was the natural sequence of his waking thoughts.

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